With preseason about a couple of months away, we're taking a look at each NFL team and how the books see their schedules playing out. As we continue this series, you can check out our other teams and our predictions for if the totals hit. Today, we start with the San Francisco 49ers.
There are a couple of things we were reminded of with the San Francisco 49ers last season.
One, their defense is still incredible. You almost forget how many impact players were missing from the team two years ago that wound up missing the playoffs. Those same players were one quarter away from winning a Super Bowl.
Then we get to this past season, the 49ers were one quarter away from returning to the Big Game, but of course, we know the Los Angeles Rams wound up doing the thing and went on to win the Super Bowl.
But lest we forget that when we look back on that 49ers season that was fairly magical, they still finished third in the NFC West at 10-7. Two playoff wins against the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers were truly incredible, but it's crazy to think that the 49ers wound up barely cracking double digits in this 17-game format.
Remember, also, that it wasn't always like that. The 49ers had to win four of their final five games to clinch a playoff spot, which included overtime victories against the two Super Bowl participants.
Nevertheless, the 49ers are still talented and are right on the cusp even with the Arizona Cardinals still in play, as well as the Rams.
Odds at USA Sportsbooks
BetMGM: 9.5 (Over, -140, Under +125)
DraftKings: 10 (Over, +100, Under -120)
FanDuel: 9.5 (Over, -145, Under +120)
Yes, we know how good the defense is. Nick Bosa is coming off a 15.5-sack season (it would help to get another pass rusher for that group). Fred Warner is still an incredible linebacker. Even Azeez Al-Shaair turned into a 100-tackle machine.
But the success of the 49ers is going to come down to the offensive side of the ball, particularly who is quarterbacking this group. Jimmy Garoppolo is coming off a season in which he threw for 3,810 yards, but just 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
However, there's this kid they drafted No. 2 overall last year waiting in the wings, and the prospect is he's ready to become the full-time starter. Trey Lance has been getting first-team reps in practice with Garoppolo recovering from offseason surgery, and things appear to be pointing in the direction of Lance becoming the guy.
"I can only say positive things," fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. "Trey has done a really good job in really taking on all the different parts of being QB1. I've seen improvement on the field. As far as his performance, you see a lot of big plays out there. And as a leader, I feel like he's stepped up. He's just a very natural leader, a guy that people gravitate towards."
It's still that weird feeling of if there will be a quarterback divide in the locker room. Clearly, it's going to be the best guy. Is Lance that guy? Garoppolo, for as maligned as he is, has still led this group to nearly two Super Bowl appearances.
"He's QB1," cornerback Charvarius Ward said. "He's the face of the franchise. He's gonna show the world this season."
And that's going to be the biggest key to watch this season.
Week 1 - at Chicago
Week 2 - vs. Seattle
Week 3 - at Denver
Week 4 - vs. Los Angeles Rams
Week 5 -- at Carolina
Week 6 -- at Atlanta
Week 7 -- vs. Kansas City
Week 8 -- at Los Angeles Rams
Week 9 -- BYE
Week 10 -- vs. Los Angeles Chargers
Week 11 -- vs. Arizona (Mexico City)
Week 12 -- vs. New Orleans
Week 13 -- vs. Miami
Week 14 -- vs. Tampa Bay
Week 15 -- at Seattle
Week 16 -- vs. Washington
Week 17 -- at Las Vegas
Week 18 -- vs. Arizona
The road games pile up heavy in the early going with four of their first six away. But three of those games (Chicago, Carolina, Atlanta) seem winnable. It'll benefit that they get the Rams and Seahawks at home. If San Francisco can come away unscathed to the bye week, with maybe at least five wins, I like their chances to finish strong with six home games and a neutral site.
It's always going to come down to health and the quarterback position for the 49ers. If Lance is the guy, great. But you better be sure that is the case. If not, this season could go upside down.